Backhoe operator in Maguindanao massacre falls

Posted at 11/25/12 4:24 PM

MANILA, Philippines – Police confirmed on Sunday they had arrested a former employee of a powerful clan blamed for the murders of 58 people in 2009, the country's worst political massacre.

Bong Andal did not resist when he was detained in the southern town of Midsayap Saturday, making him the 106th suspect to fall with 91 still at large, the police said in a statement.

The arrest came a day after the third anniversary of the massacre and amid calls from the victims' families to speed up prosecution of the Ampatuan clan and members of its private army who allegedly carried out the murders.

The Ampatuan clan is accused of carrying out the 2009 massacre in their Maguindanao provincial stronghold to stop a rival, Esmael Mangudadatu, from running against one of its members in elections the following year.

The victims included Mangudadatu's wife and sister, their lawyers and a large group of journalists.

Witnesses have told the court the Ampatuan clan allegedly orchestrated the killings, with at least one of the sons taking part in mowing down the suspects and ordering them to be buried in pits.

Police said Andal was the operator of the excavator used to dig the mass graves.

Rights groups have blamed the killings on a continuing "culture of impunity" in the Philippines, where politicians are known to control their own armed militias and get away with murder in the backlogged justice system.

Last week, the government said 60 private armed groups controlled by politicians remained across the country, down from 112 at the end of 2010.

Dozens of other members of the Ampatuan family who were not accused over the massacre were also said to be preparing to run again in next year's local elections, officials said.